Sunday, August 3, 2014

Home again, home again....

Nothing goes to weather like a 747.  But a 767, 777 or even "the bus" are almost as good at getting one home, I'll admit , despite my love for the mighty "whale". So we're back in the USA. It feels good. Our home and our pets had been well cared for by our house sitter. We're ready to enjoy being here in a season we especially enjoy and haven't experienced for several years.
Old Amsterdam
The trip went very well considering its the height of vacation travel time and that we're lowly retired airline, standby type passengers. We couldn't get on a flight we wanted out of Athens to New York but got on another to Amsterdam and spent a nice evening in the heart of the old city. Next day we got in World Business Class  (oh joy! )  from AMS to JFK and then caught the first  flight to SFO. We had another nice night with family in Mill Valley and then drove a rental car home on a lovely day. Quite a good trip as non-rev travel goes.
On the hard at Cleopatra
We left the boat on the hard at Cleopatra Marina in Preveza, Greece. The marina had been recommended by several friends. The haul out and hard stand work was very professional and we have high hopes for a favorable experience  with Cleopatra.

Haul out at Cleopatra
Preveza and Cleopatra were the culmination of three months travel that began in Marmaris, Turkey back in April. We put  eight hundred and ninety three nautical miles on the boat, by far the shortest season of "voyaging"  we've done since beginning this trip in 2008. We did no overnight passages and the longest single day was about eight  hours. But we visited thirty-nine different anchorages in that three months which seemed satisfying enough.  Looking back on the summer and trying to answer that question, "What was your favorite place?" is a pretty difficult task. Kioni, on Ithaki,  is high on our list, Astipalea was a very neat island, Naxos had a lot to offer and Naphlion was a nice city. We could go on and on.
Remember Astipalea?
Preveza itself is a nice small city, near the ancient city of Actium, on a peninsula at the entrance to the gulf of Ambracia.  Just off that entrance on the 2nd of September 31BC, in the naval battle of Actium,  the long Roman civil war was pretty much finally decided. The fleet of Octavian with Marcus Agrippa met the combined fleets of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra and defeated them decisively after a  tough afternoon.  Cleopatra bugged out for Egypt and Anthony escaped to Samos and then to Egypt. Both committed suicide within a year as Octavian's forces pressed on. Octavian became "Augustus" Caesar and thus began the Augustan age.
The quay at Preveza
For several months before that battle the Anthony and Cleopatra forces were based inside the Gulf of Ambracia. Cleopatra Marina is located beside an ancient fortification which dates back to that encampment. The gulf would certainly be an excellent place to hole up with one's  fleet.  Its a very well protected inland sea surrounded by low mountains but with fertile, well watered valleys at the southern shores. The one disadvantage, mosquitoes! We had very few during our stay but those ancient fleets suffered greatly from malaria. The old swamps have been drained over the centuries and the gulf is a lovely place today. 
Near Vonitsia
We motored into a gulf anchorage just a mile  east of Vonitsia called Koukounitsia and had  very sweet day. The anchorage is well protected and uncrowded, there were only two other boats, with excellent holding and lovely surroundings. The town of Vonitsia is quiet and rural with a little Greek tourism. There's an especially interesting castle above and some nice taverna's on the quay. The country descending down into the gulf reminded us very much of the northern wine country of California, vineyards and orchards amongst the mountains. 
Vonitsia, from the castle
We enjoyed a night anchored out and used the dinghy to go into town for a nice dinner ashore. One of the few times we've used the dinghy with its engine all summer. Next morning we went back into Preveza Marina, prepped the boat for haul out and spent a last night in town. Preveza is a very Greek town but does have a university so the evening club scene and the volta are lively and fun. It was a good way to say goodbye to the cruising season.
So after the haul out and final storage work we did a night at the marina rental rooms and then a six hour bus ride to Athens. Had a night in the over priced Sofitel Hotel at the airport and began the trek home. So endeth the year.

This is as good a time as any to do some commentary on the Greece as a country and a place to visit. I've made no secret that Greece is one of my favorite places and the Greek people amongst my favorite peoples. I first worked in Greece flying a project for the Greek government with  an American company in 1981. I did the same thing again in '85 and was in the country working or traveling every year from 1981 till about 1993. So last year was the first return in twenty years. It would be hard to overestimate how much the country has changed. In '81 Greece was still pretty much a third world country. Its ties to the west were tenuous at best. There was some question as to the direction the county would take. Would it turn towards the west and the modern world or remain in the Balkan back water between east an west? The question as to whether or not to join the EU was a very big issue. The conflict with Turkey over Cyprus could have become open warfare at any time. Since that era the Soviet Union and the eastern communist block are no more. Greece turned irrevocably(?) towards the west. The country is far wealthier than it was in the early eighties. The roads and general infrastructure are greatly modernized. Consumer capacity, the ability of the individual to purchase goods and services,  is much greater. On a materialistic level  people are far, far better off than thirty years ago. There is a flip side of course. A lot of that wealth was financed by debt and that debt came home to roost recently. And guess what, the government had no way to pay it off. Worse yet the government had grossly understated the levels of debt. Outright government fraud was a major factor. So that rapid increase in wealth came to a crashing halt and a whole lot of good people with high "expectations" found themselves deeply disappointed. Unemployment, especially 'under' employment amongst the well educated young, was and still is a huge problem. That crash seems to have stabilized over the past couple years. You hear little talk about leaving the EU and returning to the Drachma. There's considerable resentment against the Germans.  Pasok, the Greek political party in power during much of the good times, has lost just about all it had ever gained. The Cyprus question has been a quiet issue for several years and relations with the Turks have been civil.
Harbor fortification, Naphlion
So can there at least be some form of stability in the future for Greece? The country has been at the seam between east and west since recorded history began. The Greek world once included much of what is now Turkey. A quick summary of the movement of that "seam" might include the Persian invasions from the east of the early 4th century BC.  Alexanders move to the east as far as India.  The Roman conquest and the inclusion in the Roman empire. The eastern invasions of Mongols, Goths, Visigoths, Huns, Vandals and the fall of the Roman empire.  The rise of Islam and the Ottoman empire. The Greek War for Independence and the ultimate the fall of the Ottoman Empire after WW I.  The Greek invasion of Turkey and its failure and the "exchange" of populations. The German occupation during WWII and the Greek civil war afterwards. The military dictatorship of the "colonels" during the seventies and the membership in the EU. The history of the land  has been one of chaos. That seam between east and west shifts periodically and Greece is twisted and torn  during the shift. For now that shift seems to be pretty strongly towards the west. And its hard to imagine a return to the east. But its also hard to predict the political future  ahead a century or two.
Everybody's idea of Greece, the Parthanon
For now, I have high hopes for my friends the Greeks. Their native decency, industry, individuality, independence and energy have survived the millennia. For whatever reason you may have,  visit the place, get to know a little of the country and enjoy the feast.

Love to all,
Bill and Janet
SV Airstream

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